Discovering your inner Esther: Torah Yoga has many lessons for Purim

For Cantor Sharon Hordes and Lisa Flannery, bringing Torah and yoga together in a single class is, as Flannery said, “bringing together two universal truths.”

The two led a “Torah Yoga” class, Thursday, February 16, at Keneseth Israel Congregation, Temple Shalom and Hadassah also sponsored the event.

torah-yogaWe sat upright on our mats, barefoot with legs crossed as Flannery reminded us that for the holiday of Purim, we focus on the courageous heroine who convinced arrogant King Haman to spare the lives of the Jewish people. Within the many transactions of our daily lives, we wear many masks. We hide behind irrational behavior or thoughts, self-doubt or complacency. Yet, we all harbor a courageous, most beautiful self, our Esther.

Hordes read from the Book of Esther and quoted Michael … who described the Jewish queen as a “crusader for justice.”

Flannery introduced the notion that we might discover Esther within our being. The question is, how can one do this through a meditative, slow flow of stretches and twists that may look silly or feel uncomfortable?

Yoga, which means “connection” or “union” in Sanskrit, is not a religious practice; it does not substitute for Passover, rabbinic teachings or going to synagogue. It is an act of expression that empowers adherents to lessen the inner stresses that overruns their minds and bodies during the day.

In other ways, the instructors say, it is a gateway to manifest one’s best self for community, family and G-d.

Yoga has exploded across Louisville, from yoga nidra in the Salt Caves, yoga at the Waterfront, bakeries and bars. As an avid yogini (males are yogis), I am most relaxed and allied with my inner calm if the practice elicits clear intension.

So why not yoga with a familiar kavana, the Hebrew word for direction of the heart?

With purpose, we rolled onto our backs, closed our eyes and began deep breathing, or ujjayi. In fact, the 45-minute practice ended the way it began, in meditative shavasana. Each pose prepared our muscles for the next. The most climactic, a series of stationary runner’s lunges and downward facing dogs, were sandwiched between introductory floor exercises and conclusive balances against the last row of pews.

Like most yoga sequences, it flowed as the shape of a bell curve. From time to time, Flannery reminded us of our purposes on the mat. She paused to ask, “How are you feeling?”

Our bodies held on to emotions. We relished these reflective moments to assess hidden lower back pain now whispering through our spine, clenched jaws or tense shoulders pulling at our ears. This awareness and release of body sensation created personal control, stability and empowerment.

We did not leave as we came in. Stretching our spines, opened our hearts and minds to meditate on self-love. We, as was Esther, were girded to maintain a steady calm to stand before the Hamans in our lives.

It’s best to approach yoga as an ongoing practice. Good thing Hordes and Flannery will return to help us “peel off all the layers to find our true selves,” next month’s class.

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